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Upholding Burfict’s season-long suspension was the right thing for the NFL to do

Vontaze Burfict

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Perhaps the NFL goes a little overboard sometimes when it comes to policing what some might define as rough play.

What we’re certain of is, hardly a week goes by anymore without some defender bitching and moaning about how the league has gone soft and taken the physicality out of the sport.

We say so be it. The sight of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph lying motionless on the field after being demolished by Ravens safety Earl Thomas was about as close as we want to get to the harsh realities of the NFL.

We’d rather officials lean on the side of safety and let the defenders figure out how to reconfigure their tackling fundamentals.

That’s why we’re thrilled the NFL decided to uphold Vontaze Burfict’s season-long suspension for his head-to-head hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle during Week 4.

Burfict’s appeal of the original decision was heard by former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was appointed by both the NFLPA and NFL to arbitrate such cases.

You’ll recall that Burfict, the starting middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, was thrown out of the game in Indianapolis after the play and then blew kisses at jeering fans as he ran towards the tunnel.

It was an unnecessarily vicious hit on the defenseless Doyle who was in the process of falling to the ground. And it was just the latest in a long line of transgressions by Burfict, who has earned his reputation as the dirtiest player in the league during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Raiders.

The league also determined Burfict will not be paid during the suspension and will not be allowed to return if the Raiders make the postseason. As we were alluding to, it also made clear his track record for havoc had a lot to do with the imposition of the longest suspension in league history relating to an on-field incident.

Burfict should have known this was coming from the moment he left the field in Indianapolis. On Sept. 30, he received a letter from Jon Runyan, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, detailing why the league came to the decision.

“There were no mitigating circumstances on this play,” the letter said. “Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided. For your actions, you were penalized and disqualified from the game. Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed officers that future violations would result in escalated accountability measures. However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.”

Until Burfict came along, the longest NFL on-field suspension had been handed to Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth in 2006 for kicking and stomping on the face of Cowboys center Andre Gurode.

Oakland Raiders

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The NFL had to come down on Burfict simply because he has refused to alter his style of play over the years. He was fined $112,000 last season for questionable hits on Antonio Brown and James Conner of the Steelers.

Ironically, Brooks once played for Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. And as the media following the case has been quick to point out, it was hit from Brooks that ended quarterback Rich Gannon’s career 15 years ago.

Over the last two weeks, the Raiders have gone to great lengths to defend Burfict, both Gruden and Derek Carr, the team’s veteran QB, vouching for his personality. Carr even called Burfict the most misunderstood player in the league.

“We’re going to try to make our case,” said Gruden of Oakland desire to appeal to the league. “I respect the league’s position. They have a tough job. At the same time, we have a lot of confidence that they’ll do what’s right. We want Burfict back. He’s already been punished. We hope he can return to playing soon.”

ESPN reported that Burfict’s hearing lasted a little over an hour and that Burfict spent much of the time defending himself, trying to justify why the type of tackle he chose to make was within the boundaries of a “good football play.”

Both Gruden and Carr spoke in behalf of Burfict during the hearing.

“He’s one of the most genuine, awesome people I’ve ever been around. He’s a great teammate, he works his tail off and he’s a great guy, to be honest with you,” said Carr last week from London where the Raiders were to play the Bears. “I know that he’s had history at places, but I think people change. I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man.”

The Raiders were also hoping Doyle’s admission that the hit looked worse than it was would help the appeal. It did not.

Burfict has been suspended or fined 15 times during his eight-year NFL career and lost more than $5 million as a result. He’s in the midst of a one-year, $2 million deal with the Raiders.

But he will not play another down for them this season and that’s the way it should be.